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Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth cruise to Paris Elite16 finals on chocolate and pizza

It must be the chocolate.

Or maybe it’s the pizza.

Perhaps the black magic of coach Drew Hamilton back home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

That’s what Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth will tell you, anyway, when asked about the secret sauce to their undefeated run at this week’s Paris Elite16. After a 2-0 start to the week, with dominant victories over Italy and Australia, Nuss credited the hot chocolate that has been a popular feature of her “food chronicles” on her Instagram.

After a 21-13, 21-17 pounding over Italy’s Valentina Gottardi and Marta Menegatti in Saturday evening’s semifinals, Kloth smiled that All-American smile, shrugged, and told the crowd that “I like the pizza.”

Indeed, America’s lovable beach volleyball darlings have done it again, marching to their fourth final of the Beach Pro Tour season, winning over a Parisian crowd in the process. They’ve dropped just a single set thus far in Paris, to Germans Laura Ludwig and Louisa Lippmann in Saturday’s quarterfinals. That has been the lone blemish in a tournament in which they have outscored their opponents 223-173 and won six sets by four or more points.

“The secret is just trusting each other, trusting our training, trusting what our coach has been teaching us at practice,” Nuss said. “It really just is the trust we have between each other and our team.”

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Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth celebrate another rally that goes their way at the Paris Elite16/Volleyball World photo

That trust has led to a season that is the very antithesis of the sophomore slump. Rookies in 2022, Nuss and Kloth struggled to break into the top-tier of the elite teams, closing the season with five fifth-place finishes. This year? They have made more finals than they have finished fifth, as their gold medal match on Sunday morning against Brazil’s Duda Lisboa and Ana Patricia Silva will be their fifth crack at a gold.

Beating the Brazilians is, of course, no small task. After a relatively slow start to the year, no team has been better these past five months than the Brazilians. They are the only team in the world to win multiple Elite16 events, with three gold medals and a potential fourth on Sunday in Paris. It was Ana Patricia and Duda who kept Nuss and Kloth from gold in Hamburg six weeks ago, beating the USA 21-16, 21-17 in their fifth meeting of the season.

In seven career matches against Ana Patricia and Duda, Nuss and Kloth have yet to beat the Brazilians. They’ve come close, taking the first set in the Ostrava Elite16, battling to a third set in Tepic, but they haven’t yet found the solution to sustain the level of play required to stump the Brazilians.

Few have.

Ana Patricia and Duda have won 26 of their previous 27 matches, their only blemish coming on a bizarre and wild comeback from Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles in the quarterfinals of the Montreal Elite16. Aside from that black swan, in which they gave up a 14-9 lead in the third set, the Brazilians have been virtually untouchable.

In Paris, so have Nuss and Kloth.

Perhaps the Parisian chocolate and pizza combo — and the distant coaching of Hamilton — is what Nuss and Kloth have needed all along to alas stump the unsolvable riddle that is Ana Patricia and Duda.

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Ana Patricia Silva celebrates at the Paris Elite16/Volleyball World photo

Schweiner-Perusic looking healthy once more at Paris Elite16

Equally as unsolvable in Paris have been the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner. After sitting out a number of events this year due to injury, the Czechs appear more than healthy. Like Nuss and Kloth and Ana Patricia and Duda, their run to the finals on the men’s side has been an undefeated one, with five straight matches won. Their 21-16, 21-15 dismantling of Robert Meeuwsen and Alex Brouwer of the Netherlands in the semifinals was further evidence of their health.

They will meet Germans Clemens Wickler and Nils Ehlers in the finals, a rematch from the first match of pool play in which Perusic and Schweiner won, 21-19, 24-26, 15-12.

It was Perusic and Schweiner whom Andy Benesh and Miles Partain would have played in the quarterfinals had they won their first round of playoffs, against Italians Sam Cottafava and Paolo Nicolai. Alas, Benesh and Partain, who were off all weekend and needed a tight win over Australia on Friday simply to break pool, remained off, dropping 17-21, 16-21 to the Italians to finish ninth, their worst of the season yet still tops among the American men, all of whom struggled in Paris.

“At the end of the tournament every ball really counts,” Schweiner said. “I’m glad we managed to keep our focus and win the game.”

Meeuwsen and Brouwer will play Austrians Julian Horl and Alex Horst, another team who came out of Wednesday’s qualifier, for bronze. The women’s bronze medal match will be between Gottardi and Menegatti and Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon of the Netherlands.

All matches of the Paris Elite16 can be seen on VolleyballTV. Use “VOLLEYBALLMAG” for a discount.

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Andy Benesh hits against Paolo Nicolai at the Paris Elite16/Volleyball World photo